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Friday, 19 June 2009

Grand Larceny Africa

Corruption is not exclusive to Africa, of course. Yet official corruption is bound to be more glaring on a continent where most people live in dire poverty. And the news from Africa, as reported in the International Herald Tribune on June 10 by Celia W. Dugger, is that the fight against such corruption is not going well.

In countries that should be setting an example — South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya — the war on corruption has suffered major setbacks before rapacious and ruthless politicians; in Burundi and the Congo Republic, anticorruption campaigners have been killed.
Corruption is a terrible disease that destroys a country from within. Funds desperately needed to combat poverty and disease and to build roads, hospitals and schools are spent instead on everything from palaces on the Riviera to the acres of shoes made of snakeskin, satin and ostrich that Frederick Chiluba accumulated in a decade as Zambia’s president. Corruption begets corruption, turning ruling elites into self-perpetuating cliques, destroying peoples’ faith in government and law.

Daniel Kaufmann, a former anticorruption official for the World Bank now with the Brookings Institution, told Ms. Dugger that courageous corruption-fighting commissions across Africa were either struggling or moribund. He said tens of billions of dollars were being stolen just in sub-Saharan Africa.

Western aid donors, conscious of the heavy sins of colonialism, have been wary of criticizing African leaders. But Africa’s people are the ones who suffer, as their politicians drain the public treasuries.

Western aid, censure and judicial systems are important levers that can be used. Transparency International, a nongovernmental organization that combats corruption, has filed lawsuits in France to force investigations into the stolen riches of corrupt African leaders. As one prominent Zambian politician told diplomats from rich nations, “Don’t sit silent. You don’t know how much influence you have.”

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